Federal Communications Minister and former Internet filter proponent Stephen Conroy revealed yesterday that the ASIC, Australia's financial regulator, last month ordered ISPs to block websites that appeared fraudulent, according to a report by tech news website Delimiter.
The order resulted in blocking of the Melbourne Free University website and other legal websites, between 4 and 12 April.
It remains unclear why the sites were blocked or what drove ASIC to make the orders.
" … give officers and authorities of the Commonwealth and of the States and Territories such help as is reasonably necessary for the following purposes: enforcing the criminal law and laws imposing pecuniary penalties; assisting the enforcement of the criminal laws in force in a foreign country; protecting the public revenue; safeguarding national security."
It seems ASIC for all intents and purposes used this power to censor the internet, blockin over 1000 websites without telling them why."It is very easy to foresee that other Federal Government agencies would like to follow the example set by ASIC and quietly use Section 313 notices to block other sites on the borderlines of legality," Mr Lemay said in a post last night.
"The Department of Health and Aging may like to block pro-euthanasia sites, for example, or sites promoting illegal drug use. The Australian Taxation Office may like to block sites promoting methods of tax evasion. The Department of Defence may like to block sites which expose details of Australian military misconduct. And so on.
"The list is endless, and I am sure that there are at least a couple of agencies closely examining what ASIC has done here, with a view to potentially doing the same in their own portfolios in future."
Meanwhile Melbourne Free University co-convenor Jasmine-Kim Westendorf told The Australian the discovery of ASIC's involvement 'raised more questions than it answered.'
"Our main concern is that it's taken six weeks to get any answers about who blocked our website and why," Ms Westendorf said.
“It is a remarkably dangerous development,” Greens senator Ludlam Scott told The Australian Financial Review. “It’s extraordinarily difficult to find who has issued these notices and on behalf of whom, for what categories of content, or what you do if you find yourself on a block list. We’ve got a very serious problem and it’s not at all clear whether the government knows what it’s actually doing.”
Senator Ludlam said revelations that ASIC had used its powers under the Communications Act to request website removals that amounted to “mandatory net filtering against no list at all”.
““These are legally enforceable notices that are being dropped on ISPs,” he said.
“What is to stop from this being used for a whole range of things? Maybe the copyright industry will be next.”
Meanwhile The Pirate Party’s lead Senate candidate for New South Wales, Brendan Molloy, has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request seeking documents related to blocking requests by ASIC.
“It is an inappropriate and reckless reaction by ASIC, an authority that should not even have the powers to order mass censorship, to censor an IP address that has multiple websites associated with it,” he said in the application.
The federal government backed down on its mandatory filter legislation only last year.